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The Nature Nut

Rosamund Pojar
Red-breasted sapsucker. (Allen Norby photo)

Anyone who has lived in the Bulkley Valley for any length of time will know that although our climate is not truly coastal, it is not truly interior either. Neither are we truly north or south.

So, it is not surprising that we can have a bit of a mix of coastal and dry interior as well as north and south bird communities and hence we are in a potential ‘zone of hybridization’.

We know that many of our northern flickers are hybrids between the typically western, red-shafted flickers and the taiga or eastern, yellow-shafted flickers.

Recent sightings and studies done by a UBC grad student indicate that we are also in the zone of hybridization between red-breasted sapsuckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

Typically, red-breasted sapsuckers are more of a western species, although they do occur further eastward in BC toward Prince George through an area along either side of Highway 16.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker is the common species north of us and into the Yukon and eastward across the boreal and sub-boreal zones of Canada and southward into the eastern U.S.

The Bulkley Valley and Highway 16 area are in a zone of overlap between the two species. Recently people have been seeing and photographing hybrids between red-breasted and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. If any keen photographers manage to get good photos of hybrid sapsuckers, please let me know.

Another species in this area was known as ‘blue grouse’ until recently when it was split into the interior dusky grouse and the coastal sooty grouse.

Since then, we have been wondering where the line between the two should be or maybe there is just a gradient of features of the two. The most distinctive feature separating them is the colour of the air sacs shown by males in display. Displaying sooty males show bright yellow, warty air sacs whereas dusky male air sacs are purple and fleshy.

Being in the right place at the right time to see a male display is a chancy business, but any good photos will help determine the species.

Other, somewhat variable, and subjective features, involve the shape and width of the gray tips on the tail and overall colour - sooty grouse being darker overall.

If people do get good pictures please let us know the species and precise location.

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